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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Grandstander on the stage

by John Brummett | February 24, 2021 at 3:39 a.m.

A stout majority of state senators voted Monday to break federal law and sacrifice women and girls to rape and incest.

It was just another day at the office for modern Arkansas conservativism.

These senators have the grandiose notion that Arkansas can pass a strict and all-encompassing anti-abortion bill and provide the historic vehicle for the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.

But two similarly anti-woman states have already beaten Arkansas to the punch with such an outlaw law. And a lawyer for a national anti-abortion group has said that a simple frontal assault is probably not the way to get the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case that would undo Roe v. Wade.

The lawyer said the likeliest way was to come in sideways on some legally unclear issue and hope that five or six of the justices could run with it. The anti-abortion movement may need to be a little more subtle and substantive than the modern Arkansas conservative seems capable.

In the currently reigning conservative culture of Arkansas, no Republican legislator dares risk a scorecard mailed to constituents by the Family Council saying that he or she voted against protecting unborn children.

So, on Monday, you had Sen. Missy Irvin of Mountain View decrying in a speech on the floor that SB6, primarily sponsored by Swaggartian grandstander Jason Rapert, provided no usual exception to the outright abortion ban for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

Then she voted for the bill as written, without the exceptions for which she pleaded.

She was aware--because she'd mentioned it in her remarks--that they were beginning to whisper in the Capitol halls that maybe she wasn't as pro-life as the Lord commanded if she was worried about already-born women and girls that much.

Irvin said such rumoring "burns my hide." So, she fortified herself against flaming flesh to vote for the spark.

As Sen. Bob Ballinger put it, a baby is a baby no matter the nature of the impregnation. Either you protect that baby or you don't, he said.

Here are a couple of other ways to put that: Either you spare a woman or girl the lingering indignity of brute trauma or abuse, or you don't. Either the rapist is more entitled to the right of fatherhood than the victim is entitled to dignity, or he isn't.

Rapert stressed that the bill permits emergency contraception that a woman or girl could take immediately after attack or abuse. So, raped women and girls will still have a chance if they'll hurry.

This issue provided the first demonstration of state Sen. Jim Hendren's ballyhooed new status. As perhaps you heard, he is now a Republican-bolting independent preaching common ground and pragmatic resistance to the raging new extremes that are killing our politics.

Apparently, his new independence means he will be a politician who talks semi-progressively and acts neutrally.

He told the Senate that he'd always been pro-life and resented the Democratic charge that pro-life conservatives care more about the unborn than the born. But he said he was beginning to wonder if that might not be so, particularly since the new conservative position was to abandon the tried-and-true exception for rape and incest and to brand as wobbly on right-to-life anyone concerned about abandoning that exception.

Then he voted "present."

That showed 'em.

A governor--such as Hendren's uncle, Asa Hutchinson--will have to take a position if the House approves the bill as written. He must sign it, veto it and almost assuredly get overridden or let it become law without his signature.

The latter sounds like what the new-independent Jim Hendren would choose if governor.

Through it all, the likelihood is that none of this will amount to anything.

Such a law would be immediately sued, producing an immediate injunction that would be upheld at the appellate level because of the plain violation of case law, and the U.S. Supreme Court wouldn't take the case.

Two or three of those Supreme Court conservatives seem serious enough to want a real dispute to work with, not a transparent frontal assault.

One purpose of SB6 seems evident in a Twitter post by the chief sponsor, Rapert.

He asked followers to call their legislators and their governor to support the bill. He attached to the post an apparent campaign logo--"Jason Rapert lieutenant governor."

Yes, Rapert is running to be Sarah Huckabee Sanders' heartbeat from the governorship, unless Hendren's independent neutrality catches fire in the voters' imaginations.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.


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